Monthly Archives: June 2017

Tyres, watches, writing prompts and sonnets

Guess what? I’m not the only person who finds writing for an academic readership a challenge. I’ve been reading Rowena Murray’s How to Write a Thesis. She wrote the book to help the lots of people who are challenged by it. It’s a manual of practical advice on doing just that, including lots of practical writing prompts to get you started: not in some spurious acadamese that I’ve been imagining exists, and that I’ve been imagining I need to learn; but in properly formed sentences, in your own words. In first person, if that’s how you feel. Using anecdote if it’s appropriate and apposite to the work. So that has been a major part of my work this week. And those writing exercises have helped me to gain an overview of the project as a finished piece. Prompts like ‘The stage I am at now is…’ or ‘I have identified a problem with…’ force you to look at your progress. Prompts like ‘what I want to find out is…’ force you to look to the next stages. As a result of these and other prompts, I feel as if I have a much clearer idea of what shape my thesis will take, how the chapters will break down. I’m feeling less confused and more productive. Most of the writing prompts generate writing which will be of practical use in the thesis too, they aren’t just add-ons. And all this in time for the annual review. Yes, I have a date for the review: Thursday, July 6th. All these writing prompts are going to be really helpful for writing my progress report too.

Also, perspectives: one of the writing prompts was ‘Is it possible to write 1000 words in an hour?’ (or words to that effect). This was a free writing exercise, just write without stopping for 5 minutes. At the end of five minutes, count the words. I had 280 words, hand written. 280 words in five minutes equals 1044 in an hour. The critical element of my work will be 20,000 words. That means it is possible to write this element in less than a day! Now, I haven’t lost it completely, I know this is gross over-simplification. But it does serve to tame the savage beast. The critical aspect is 25% of the whole; it receives 80% of my attention. I just need to get it into perspective, cut it down to size, show it who’s boss!

I’ve also been pursuing the sonnet section too. I’ve read the introduction to The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (Jeff Hilson). I’m still waiting for my copy to come to my letterbox; I have enjoyed reading the downloaded introduction so much I can’t wait to read the sonnets themselves. And I’ve read an article: ‘Augusta Webster Writing Motherhood in…the sonnet sequence’ by Melissa Valise Gregory. This is interesting: it is from the viewpoint of the mother as poet. My own study is focused on the poet as daughter; but it does give insight into the challenges women poets have had in juggling writing and domesticity.

And over and above all this, I have done the reading I had to do for homework from the ‘Writing Up Writing Down’ course I’ve been attending on Wednesdays through June. I’ve had a satisfying and productive week. I have revised the plan of my finished thesis in light of the writing prompts and the reading I have done. As an aside, I completed a ‘grammar quiz’ I found in Murray’s book. It was fairly basic, but I’m a sucker for a quiz. It was designed for writers writing in a language other than their own really, I think. It asked questions like ‘what are definite and indefinite articles?’ There were ten questions altogether. The last question was ‘what is a topic sentence?’ I had no idea, it wasn’t a phrase I’d come across in all my years of speaking/writing English. I had a good guess: the answer’s in the name, I thought. And I was right: I checked on google! But it just shows you: learning is there, even in the little things.

In other news, I mentioned last week that I’ll be having my first–and only–tattoo for my 70th birthday: the Manchester bee to commemorate the victims of the terror attack at the Arena. Next Saturday, number one son, Richard, is coming to take me to Manchester to get it done. Eeek! and Squeeee! I’m dreading it and looking forward to it in equal measure at the moment. When you hear from me again, I’ll be inked!

And also to do with my birthday: Bill took me into Manchester on Friday afternoon and bought me an Apple watch! I know! I only wanted a Fitbit, but he spoke to Richard when we had lunch together a couple of weeks ago and Richard convinced him he wanted to get me an Apple watch. So I spent a couple of happy hours on Friday evening playing with it, getting it to sync with my iPhone and seeing what it is capable of. I know. It’s not my birthday for another three weeks; and normally I would have put any early presents away until the big day. But an Apple watch! I can’t have that sitting in its box in the spare room for three weeks when it could be on my wrist monitoring my fitness levels. Happy birthday to me! Yesterday I broke all my fitness targets for the day. I had to take a 4k walk to do it, but I did it. Interestingly, even with a 4k walk, I only managed 8500 steps in the day. How far must you walk to do the expected 10000? Oops, I’m becoming obsessive again, sorry.

On Thursday the tyre pressure in the rear driver’s side wheel was down again so I called into Kwikfit to get it checked. It had a nail in the tyre wall, slow puncture. New tyre: £162+!! That’s bread and lard for the rest of the month then!

And on top of all this, I was cat-sitting Amie’s cat, Socks, while she was on holiday. I had to spend time with him, have a brew, keep him company. He’s a lovely natured cat, but from the fuss I got when I visited him, I could tell he was missing the family. We had long chats about life, the universe and everything. His purr is as a bulldozer!

Enough. It’s been another full-on week, but I must go now. I’m off to the Poetry Business writing day in Sheffield with Hilary later today. I’m going to leave you with the opening poem from my sonnet corona. It’s different from anything I’ve written before. It was inspired by a visit to a photographic exhibition in Manchester City Art Gallery. I saw this truly grotesque full-face portrait of a very lived in face: a physical record of a life mis-spent. I imagined her as one of the sixties girls in other photos and wrote the start of my crown, a dialogue between a mother and daughter. This is the first sonnet on that road:


Mirror Images

I’m looking at myself in the mirror,
see, a lardy old woman; but there
in the photo, Hyde Park ’68, thin as an elf
I was confident, smart, I was full of myself
defiant and feisty: Quant make-up, leather jacket,
geometric hair,
first generation mini-skirt,
burned bra.

See the photo of me then
and my mirror self now: blood-flushed cheeks
a road map of veins, wattle chin,
whiskers like thorns, tits slapping my knees.

When the elf auditioned for life’s burlesque
she landed you the role of grotesque.


Rachel Davies
April 2017


Big birthdays and books

How fast three years flies past you while you’re busy doing a PhD! Three years seemed a long time when I signed up for this. I could have taken six years doing it part-time; but my seventieth birthday is only four weeks away; if I’d taken six years to do it, I was aware I’d be nearly 75 by the time I was finished; 71+ seemed old enough to hang my books up. But now, only twelve months left to get it done to leave me time for some polishing of the script. Tempus just keeps on fuging, as Reggie Perrin used to say.

This week, a good week. Saturday was my son Richard’s birthday, so on Sunday Amie, Bill and I went to Peterborough to take him out for a lovely lunch with some Peterborough friends. We had a lovely day. I mentioned over lunch that I would like a commemorative Manchester Bee tattoo, just a small one on my inner wrist. Richard said he would buy me one for my birthday. So, to celebrate my 70th birthday I’ll be visiting a tat parlour for the first time in my life . I’ve never wanted a tattoo before, but I love the little bee; and you’re never too old for a new experience. Watch this space.

Tuesday I started working on the PhD. I did my homework for the ‘Writing Up, Writing Down’ course, focussed on writing the thesis. I wrote a blurb to explain my thesis in one paragraph; not an easy task, but it really concentrates your mind. It clarified what exactly it is I’m attempting in this piece of work. I feel as if I hovered above it and saw it as a whole for the first time, and got some clearer idea of what it’ll look like as a finished piece. And that seems to have made it more manageable. I also had to make a plan of a piece of writing I am committed to having completed in draft by the end of the course on July 5th. I have chosen to develop the sonnet chapter in line with the target I set myself after my meeting with Angelica and Antony.

On Tuesday evening we went into  Manchester for the Feminisms in Public/Bad language readings at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. I read some of my mother-daughter poems and Hilary read some of her MA portfolio centred around relationship breakdown. It was a lovely night altogether and I got very positive feedback on my poems after. Kim Moore read first, and then Nic Royle; Mark Pajak, Natalie Burdett, Zafar Kunial were also involved; these are the poets/writers I know from the MMU Writing School. I didn’t know Sue Fox before this event: she is a lecturer in Film and Media studies; but oh, my! what a visceral reading from her about women’s desire. I don’t know her work at all, but I sort of want to read her ‘transgressive novel’ The Visceral Tear having heard her read on Tuesday. One for the holiday perhaps. Here’s a photo of me reading my set at IABF:


Wednesday morning it was the ‘Writing Up Writing Down’ course. I picked up a coffee en route and I was first to arrive, closely followed by Myna Trustram, the lecturer who has organised the course. It was lovely that she said how much she had enjoyed my reading on Tuesday evening: I hadn’t even realised she was there. I was partnered with two different course members this week: another sociologist/criminologist who is doing research into the Manchester ‘Street Angels’ who support vulnerable groups in the city centre; and a visual artist doing research into ‘film as fabric’. So many new things to learn in the world; I’ll never be done learning. We shared our ‘homework’ and had a short time to do some work towards the writing task; but I don’t write well in a roomful of people. I need an empty building, not just an empty room. So if fleshed out my plan of action in that time. I was put in touch with a book by Rowena Murray: Writing Your Thesis which has practical advice and writing activities on doing just that. I have since downloaded it to my Kindle. A useful read to anyone swimming in the deep water of thesis writing.

On Saturday I settled at my desk to a good work session. I had a plan of action; I stuck to it. First I sent out my Stanza mailings: next Stanza on Tuesday 27th June, 7.30-9.30, Britannia Inn, Mossley. Details here:

Next, I checked my MMU emails and found my way around ‘Skillsforge’, the online facility for uploading records of meetings, annual reviews and final assessments, anything to do with the work, and ultimately submitting the thesis. As a result I found the message about my annual review: Michael Symmons Roberts will be conducting my review, so I got in touch with him for a date we can meet. How lucky am I to be closely and personally involved with two top UK poets in the course of this PhD. Whatever the outcome, I will never be sorry I gave it a go.

Next, I went through the writing I sent to my team last week and edited it in line with Antony’s comments. I did an MMU library search for work on ‘the sonnet’ and downloaded a couple of journal articles via Jstor, a fantastic facility for students to access work from home. I think they will both be useful. I also searched for the Reality Street Book of Sonnets, by Jeff Hilson, an anthology recommended by Antony. I was able to access the introduction online and I enjoyed reading it so much I’ve bought the book. It wasn’t available as a Kindle book, unfortunately; but that’s probably just as well, because Kindle does mess with the formatting of poetry. So I’ll have to wait for it to be delivered to my door.

Well, that’s it for this week; a good week towards the PhD. I’ve concentrated on the thesis writing, tried out some of my poems at the Feminisms reading and received positive feedback, both on the night and the next day; and I’ve spent more money on books. Without books we may as well all be dead anyway, so that’s a good way to stay alive!

Today it’s my daughter Amie’s birthday. I won’t say how old she is, but in August we’re having a family 120th birthday celebration. She’s in Northumbria with her partner, her beloved dogs and some lovely close friends this week; having a week-long birthday celebration of her own. I hope she’s having a fantastic time, she deserves it. A couple of years ago I asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She is the least ‘consumerist’ person I know and she said she didn’t want anything. Then she said, ‘just write me a poem’; so I did. It’s a poem about the night she was born. I think I probably posted it to mark her birthday last year as well, but that’s OK. It’s her birthday and her gift. And every year since she’s been born I think of that woman in the next bed, thinking of the baby who was born the same night. Here it is. Happy birthday, Amie.

Just Because

…all my life I wanted to meet you and because you were
late by three weeks and the cocktail I drank while I waited,
nervous, for you to arrive slid down my throat like orange
frogspawn while I gagged over the stainless sink and

because when you did come you chose the secret hours
for our bonding and  because you came with a name
so I felt as if I’d known you all my life and because
meeting you made me feel I had achieved something,

like the first woman ever to do it so that I was too high
to sleep after and  because back in the ward in the
next bed was a woman more aware than me of the way
the sand runs quickly and because I noticed her empty
crib, grieved her empty womb, I just wanted to say…


Rachel Davies
June 2014


Own goals and inverted nonets

It’s the time of year for reflection. My annual review for the PhD is due, always a time for looking at how I’m doing with the study; but also a time to reflect on other aspects of life. When I started this blog I wanted to see how a PhD could possibly fit into an already full and busy life. Nearly two years in, I’m happy to say that it has fitted in very nicely. Nothing that is important to me has been usurped and yet it has had its due. I’ve had a good week this week: family, friends, study and poetry, all contributing their share. And however bad any week gets, I can always reflect on the fact it will rarely be as bad as Theresa May’s week this week.

So, family: last weekend my son Michael was staying with us, so on Sunday morning we met up with Amie and her partner, Angus and we all went out for an enormous breakfast. We were still full from dinner the night before; food was probably the last thing we needed. But breakfast isn’t always about food and this one was about spending time together, like the symbolic breaking of bread. We had a really pleasant couple of hours in each other’s company. We got to meet Amie’s newest family member, Sonny, the nine-week-old cockerpoo, who is settling into the family very well, good friends with his older ‘brother’, Cooper. I managed to get a tiny piece of PhD work in later in the day: Jean sent me a very supportive paragraph to contribute to my annual review. And I sorted through my portfolio to decide on a poem to take to the workshop at Leaf on Monday.

Monday: the Christie for Amie’s latest check-up. Happy to report all was good: routine scan booked and next check-up in September. In the evening it was the workshop at Leaf on Portland Street. I’m beginning to really like this workshop; it happens every fortnight, no writing involved, but feedback on writing we have already done. I took a poem I wrote in Anglesey about darning and received some constructive advice about voice, about letting the poem tell the reader how darning is a waste of time for the narrator. This is a portfolio poem, I think, so any advice is really welcome.

Tuesday I had a meeting with the support team for the critical element of my PhD. It was Antony’s birthday, so perhaps his celebratory mood was why I came away feeling it had been my most positive meeting with him and Angelica since this work began. I always seem to concentrate on the negatives in these meetings, a throw-back to unhappy memories of grammar school; for instance, the time I had sent about twenty pages to the team and Antony said ‘I liked that bit on page 8’; which also seemed to me to say I didn’t think much of the rest. Of course, when I get home and reflect on the meetings, I know they aren’t as bad as the feeling I take away from them, and reading through the feedback I can always see positives I didn’t pick up in the meetings. But this meeting on Tuesday was different. I came away with the feeling that perhaps I really can do this. I had useful feedback along with advice on how to develop what I had done so far. I even got a tick or two from Antony in my analyses of Selima Hill’s poetry; how a tick can lighten your burden when you’re doing your best, even now, at my age. Teachers everywhere, remember this! I came away from the meeting with a long booklist for the summer and–albeit small–positive vibes.

Bill came to the meeting with me; obviously he didn’t come into the meeting, I left him downstairs in the atrium while I was talking to Angelica and Antony. When I found him again, we went off to Proper Tea for lunch. I collected a ‘heart for Manchester’ from Exchange Square when we went to get the tram home. Manchester has received almost a million hand-made hearts: crocheted, sewn, knitted by supporters from around the world and they have been strung along the route from the Arena to the impromptu public shrine in St Anne’s Square. The public are being encouraged to take one of the hearts home, a reminder that there is more good than evil in the world. It is good to reflect on that at these times, with two terror attacks in as many weeks, when evil seems to prevail. The love Manchester has received from around the world has been truly uplifting.

On Wednesday I had to catch Metrolink into Manchester at such an early hour, my bus-pass was useless. It was a shock to have to pay. I was in MMU by 9.45 ready to get started on a useful mini-course, ‘Writing Up, Writing Down’. This is a support course for post-graduate research students on writing your thesis. Anyone who reads this blog spot regularly knows I need all the help I can get. I love writing, it is an art I am good at; but I have met my match in academic writing. That’s why I was so gratified by the meeting on Tuesday: I really felt I was getting somewhere. Antony and Angelica felt I was getting somewhere. So, this course seemed designed for me. I met some lovely people from other disciplines, all within the Arts and Humanities faculty. I was working with a sociologist/criminologist researching youth gang culture and an architect doing a research project on the effect of HS2 on the environment in rural Cheshire. It’s easy to get blinkered in your own research and I love to meet other research students in areas other thanpoetry. It puts my own work into perspective.  I am doing this as a personal challenge; some others are doing professional projects that may have national implications. The best advice I took from the day was from a young man doing some work in criminology. One of his department colleagues, who had done a PhD in the past said, ‘remember, it’s only a bloody PhD.’ Yes, it is. Only a PhD. Cut it down to size, knock it into shape! This course will be held over four sessions and will involve practical homework around developing a part of our theses. Before next Wednesday I have to write a ‘dust-cover blurb’ for my research project to explain it to the group in one paragraph; and I have to decide which part of the thesis I want to develop within the group. That’s an easy decision: the section focused on the sonnet.

I had to go into the Black Ladd at lunchtime to do the books in the afternoon. I worked until about 5.00 p.m and managed to get it all up to date. It helped that there wasn’t a bank statement to reconcile, that cut the workload a bit. I cadged an onion from Amie for the ratatouille I wanted to make for tea. I had the other ingredients but was out of onions. Of course, this onion was a catering pack: I felt like the Queen holding the orb as I carried it to the car! It has served me for three meals so far, and I’ve only used half [insert smiley face emoji].

Thursday, of course, was Mrs May’s big day, the day she would surf to victory on a wave of public acclaim and an increased majority in The House, thereby completely demoralising Jeremy Corbyn in the process, raising her street-cred and putting any opposition completely on the back foot. I won’t get political; that’s not what this blog is about. But it is about my life, so I will say I went to vote, as I always do. And I voted Labour, as I always have.  The exit polls were interesting, suggesting a reduced majority, possibly a hung parliament for the Tories. But exit polls are notoriously wrong. I stayed up to watch the results coming in until 2.00 a.m. and they seemed to support the exit polls. I was awoken at 5.00 a.m. by my phone buzzing: messages from both sons excited by the election results. I had to get up and see for myself. The hung parliament was a reality; May had scored the most spectacular own goal in the history of goal scoring. Yes, ultimately she won the election but on a vastly reduced majority: it was indeed a hung parliament. And now she has to get into bed with the Northern Irish DUP (which will bring its own challenges) to secure a majority in the House. Never has a victory looked more like a defeat; and never has a defeat felt more like a win. Cornyn’s Labour party secured even safe Tory seats like Kensington; and Canterbury, which hasn’t been anything but Tory since Chaucer, went over to the Labour fold! Extraordinary for a party that was 20+ points behind the Tories in the opinion polls at the start of the campaign. This was a week I was proud of our democracy: the people spoke and the politicians were forced to listen. Who knows where we go now; but I suspect we won’t be hearing the ‘strong and stable’ mantra any time soon.

On Saturday I was at last able to give a full day to PhD. I wrote RD9s for the meetings with Jean and Antony/Angelica; I redrafted one of the poems I discussed with Jean, a nonet I wrote for NaPoWriMo in April. Jean liked it as a concise form and as a story; but she felt it needed more backstory to fill the reader in on what might be going on. So I drafted an inverted nonet to start the poem to provide that backstory, I hope. The trick is to show, not tell and I hope I achieved that. You can decide for yourself: it is the poem I am including to end this week’s blog. In the evening I went out for dinner with Joan. I’m telling you this because Joan likes a mention! It was my turn to go to hers in Crumpsall this month. I had to find a route through Oldham to Manchester as the roads were closed around my usual route for the Parklife festival at Heaton Park, North Manchester: security is paramount in the light of recent terror. I got to Joan’s no problem, we had a lovely meal at Glamorous, a Chinese restaurant close to Oldham Road. But I did get a bit lost on my way home. Tim, my friendly satnav, kept trying to take me through the closed streets toward the motorway. I was relieved to see a sign for Sportcity and knew how to get home from there; so I was really, really relieved to eventually find myself on Oldham Road and familiar territory.

That’s it then; another week. Here’s the redraft of Painted Lady; I hope you like it. I hope I haven’t beaten you about the head with backstory; I tried to be subtle and join it to the original without the seam showing. I’d be happy to know what you think.


Painted Lady

worked hard
so you played
hard, tankards of
Whitbread, toss of darts.
She didn’t do pubs, watched
at that window for hours for
your drunken home-coming. You were
a summer day, she made of snow so

that face powder and blood-red lipstick
you gave her for her birthday said
more about you than it did
about her. Did you want
your Bull and Butcher
tart for a wife?

She was worth
so much


Rachel Davies
June 2017

About staying positive

I woke up this morning to news reports of yet another terror attack in London. Besides the three terrorists shot dead at the scene,  six members of the public were killed and several injured in the attack. So much hate in the world; and we’re here for such a short time. When will it ever end?

I settled down to some work for the PhD on Sunday and Monday this week, after a rather lax couple of weeks. I concentrated on the creative side, the part of the work I feel most comfortable with. I wrote up the poems I drafted at the Poetry Business on Saturday; three of them are good to include in the portfolio. They are still early drafts, but have real potential. Next I pulled all my portfolio poems together from the various Mac files I had them stored in. I was gratified to see I have about fifty poems; this was genuinely a surprise to me. I printed them all off to do a red pen job on them. I also looked into other poem files, wondering if other stuff I have written in the past could fit the theme. All in all I found around seventy poems that can be adapted to fit the portfolio with very little work. And another ten that are peripheral but that I can use as springboards for other creative work. I’m planning golden shovels, pantoums, villanelles, sestinas from words, phrases, lines of my own poems. I made a start by writing a golden shovel from my own prompt: not a good one, but an experiment to see if it can be done. Of course, it can. Even bad poems you have written and squirrelled away can prove useful; recycled poems may be the way forward in ‘white page’ anxiety. It felt good to have such a creative contribution to the PhD. I am increasingly aware that this is going to be the bulk of the work and it may have to be exemplary to counter weaknesses in my critical input. I really believe this! At the end of last week I found out I have been invited to read some of my work at a ‘feminisms’ event at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on June 13th; most of my contribution will be PhD, mother-daughter poems. Come along if you’re in the area on the night: it’s a great line-up of poets, I’m delighted to be included; details here:

On Tuesday I had a family day. My son Richard is a teacher and this was his half term break. He visited on Tuesday; we met at Amie’s house for lunch. We would have been eating out under other circumstances, but Amie has just become the proud mummy of a second Cockerpoo, Sonny. Her first, Cooper, is about eighteen months old and stands about two feet high; Sonny looks like a bit dropped off him, tiny by comparison. But oh my, he can hold his own in the play fighting they engage in. He is adorable; I even forgive him for leaving needle teethmarks on the toggles of my Seasalt jacket! He is just eight weeks old and came to stay on Sunday, so Amie didn’t want to leave him alone to go out, hence we ate in. We had a lovely day together: family days are always a treat.

On Tuesday evening it was Stanza. For the first time we met at the Britannia Inn in Mossley. There were only three members there this week, attendance affected by the Bank Holiday, I suspect. We were reading and discussing the poetry of Fiona Sampson. It was a good session, even with so few members. Fiona’s poetry isn’t easy on the page: the lack of most punctuation gives no help to the reader; I like that, because often phrases can look forward to the next line or backward to the last and it’s up to the reader to make the choice where the link belongs. It’s good to hear the poems read aloud too; that helps give them music and meaning. It was a very pleasant couple of hours, doing what we like best. We were welcomed at the Britannia, we will be meeting there again late this month; June 27th, keep in touch via this link:

On Wednesday I went to my job at the Black Ladd quite early; I needed to get finished by lunch time, and I was. After a light lunch I caught Metrolink into Manchester for my meeting with Jean Sprackland. We met at the Eighth Day cafe on Oxford Road. It was a lovely day for the walk down Oxford Road and I was ready for the pot of rooibos when I got there. In  April I had sent Jean some poems to discuss: my sonnet crown and three ‘formed’ poems that I had written for NaPoWriMo, a golden shovel, a nonet and a pantoum. I had also sent the sonnet crown to Rachel Mann, who is coming to the end of her PhD at MMU. She had sent me some feedback on Tuesday so I was interested to hear what Jean would have to say. I was pleasantly surprised by both sets of feedback. This was the first time I had written a sonnet crown: I didn’t even know there was such a thing at Christmas! I enjoyed writing it as a dialogue between a mother and a daughter, stimulated originally by a Spelks’ activity at the Manchester Art Gallery. I knew it was very early draft when I sent it to Jean; I had worked on the first sonnet in the sequence and I was pleased with this but I was unsure about the rest. So imagine my delight when Jean liked it. Yes, it needs a lot more work in terms of the distinct voices of the two characters; and Jean advised I need to ensure a ‘volta’ in each sonnet, no matter how slight, but she thinks it is worth working on. She also thinks I could usefully write a couple more sonnet crowns, perhaps a couple of daughters in dialogue about their mothers, or vice versa. So I think I have opened up a route to more work as well as perfecting the crown I have written already. Jean’s feedback was very much in line with the feedback I received from Rach, so that was gratifying too. Of the other poems I sent her, the feedback was also positive and she thinks formal poems are also a way forward. She loved the pantoum, which pleased me because I was particularly pleased with that one as well. She couldn’t think of anything to say that would make it a better poem than it is; which is gratifying too, because I have entered it into a couple of competitions, so I won’t say too much about it, only that I hope the judges like it as much as Jean did! We discussed briefly how I felt the critical element of the PhD was progressing and I said I was less confident about this aspect; I’m a good student but I’m not an academic. I’m doing this as a personal challenge and I have started to see the critical side as more about the journey than the destination. I am enjoying the work but don’t know if it will ever be good enough to warrant a doctorate. But it is only a small part of the whole: the creative work is 75% of the product, so I have made up my mind it might have to be the aspect that pulls me through in the end. She suggested not seeing this as two separate aspects, but to try to integrate the creative and the critical, writing some theory and some analysis and incorporating some poems of my own inspired by that aspect of the critical work. I like this idea: I’ll be discussing it with Antony and Angelica on Tuesday this week.

On Wednesday evening I met Hilary Robinson in Manchester. We had a meal at Bella Italia then went into St Anne’s Square to see the floral tributes to the victims of the Manchester bombing. Oh my, St Anne’s Square is normally a bustling shopping square but on Wednesday it was so quiet and reverential, lots of people there paying their silent tributes to the victims. It was incredibly moving, and I was in tears again reading the written tributes among the flowers, particularly those from children. The smell of flowers was overpowering, even just approaching the Square. Balloons, flowers and written tributes as far as the eye could see.

After our visit to the Square we went to Waterstones for the launch of Rosie Garland’s latest novel, The Night Brother. It was a lovely event, Rosie in contest with a group of hell’s angels revving their bikes at the traffic lights outside. I’m pleased to report Rosie won that particular battle. She is such a good performer of her work, I have decided The Night Brother will be sun-bed reading for the holiday in September this year.

Thursday, another family day when I drove to Stamford to meet my sister for lunch. It was her birthday in May and I hadn’t had chance to visit until this week. Retirement isn’t just the best job I’ve ever had, it seems to be one of the busiest too! Who knew retirement would be so demanding! We had a long afternoon together, it was good to see her.

Friday disappeared in personal business and shopping. I visited Sonny while Amie was at work, had a cup of coffee with him, kept him company for an hour, allowed him to nibble the toggles on my jacket. Saturday, Mike visited for the weekend. We ate at the Black Ladd in the evening: Amie had to work, but at least we got to meet up after she had done cheffing–is that even a word? We are meeting for breakfast later this morning before Mike drives back to Andover.

So that’s it, another week on the journey to PhD. It has been about the creative side this week and I find that really positive. When I am involved with the critical work I question why I ever embarked on this at all; but when the emphasis is on the creative, I know why I did. I am a creative writer; I’m not an academic. I may not get a PhD out of all this work, who knows until that decision is made in my 2018 assessment; but I will be giving it my best shot, and I will have a cracking set of poems from the past three years work. I’ve decided I’m too old to stress about it, I’ll just relax and enjoy the ride.

When I was trawling through my poems for work that could make a contribution to the PhD portfolio, I came across this poem I wrote for the christening of my best friend Jo’s granddaughter, Madeleine. It won’t fit the portfolio as it stands, obviously, but it is an idea I thought might be worth recycling, this idea that we are all part of our own history, that our names are not words just plucked out of the air, they often have their roots in the past.

Naming Madeleine Daisy Vee

 Daisy and Vee are packing crates for your history;
Madeleine is a gift of love and yours alone.

Before you were a flush of joy on Emily’s cheek
or a spark of pride in Andy’s eye, before Sebastian

touched the swell of you and smiled to be introduced,
before Sebastian was Sebastian or even a suggestion

of a longing your mother nurtured, before your father
joined his life with your mother’s in a Cotswold church,

before that tentative first date when two young people
opened their eyes to how the future could be, before

those two people searched and found each other, before
Gigi and Taid were Gigi and Taid, were just mum and dad,

before Gigi and Taid were even mum and dad, when Gigi
was a daughter and called her military father Vee for Vater,

before Gigi and Taid were flushes on their parents’ cheeks,
fleeting thoughts in their parents’ hearts, before your world

was filled with mother, father, brother, Gigi, Taid, almost
a whole century before all of this, a man you never met

looked at a woman you never met and said
Daisy’s a lovely name. That’s when your naming began.

Rachel Davies
July 2013